Undrafted free agent rookie cornerback Tre Roberson has been a player impressing the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff since his arrival in the spring. He has had his moments to stand out on both the defensive side of the ball and on special teams.
It’s a big jump going from college to the NFL, but Roberson had a lot more of an adjustment to make than most players do. He played quarterback in college at Illinois State, but the Vikings decided to try him out at cornerback, something he didn’t know until he first saw No. 36 on his jersey in the team locker room.
“I didn’t know I was playing corner until I came here to the Vikings,” he explained, “I saw the jersey in my locker and I was like, ‘Alright, I guess it’s time to play some corner.’”
Despite his inexperience at the position, he has really been able to stand out on the field and impress the coaching staff.
“He came in and really hadn’t had any experience at playing the cornerback position and then this offseason really bought into what we were trying to teach,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said of the rookie corner. “You could see him getting better from day to day and then when we got into competitive situations he came out, he competed, he did well and he’s had a lot of carry over as we come into training camp doing a lot of the same things. The one thing that’s impressive about him is for a guy that really hasn’t been at the position that long, just jumping in there an understanding what it is concept wise we’re trying to do in coverage. He’s done a nice job.”
Most people say that cornerback is one of the hardest positions for rookies to get a hang of in the NFL because the rules tend to favor the offense a lot more than they did at the college level. Rookie cornerbacks will often have a problem holding receivers, or making too much contact and drawing a pass interference penalty.
But Roberson has not had any experience playing cornerback, so he did not get used to playing with the more lenient rules in college, which could end up benefiting him. Instead, he is just trying to work hard every day of practice and really learn what the coaches are asking of him.
He also attributes a lot of his early success to the fact that he has been playing football since he was seven years old, so he understands how the game is played. He has picked up on a lot of different things in those 16 years and that has also helped with this transition into his new position.
“Everyone that’s helping me out, from the coaching staff to the players and also I’ve been playing football since I was 7 years old, so I know the game,” Roberson began. “I study the game a lot. I’m always watching the game, always. I mean, it wasn’t really that big of an adjustment to go into another position because I’m athletic enough and all I knew was that if I knew the steps and knew what to do at the beginning then I can start from there and learn on.”
Defense is not the only area of the field where Roberson has been standing out, though. He has also been impressing his coaches with his performance on special teams, even though it was not something he really did in college since he was a quarterback.
All young players, especially undrafted rookies like Roberson, know that their best chance of making an NFL roster is on special teams. It’s not likely that they will see the field on offense or defense, but special teams is a place they can contribute right away.
“Tre, I really like him, and like a lot of the young rookies he’s eager, he’s tough - he’s fighting through a hand injury. He actually broke that hand in the second quarter against Cincinnati and then continued to play, and I didn’t know that. Found out after the fact,” said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. “He’s tough, he’s very smart, everything’s new to him, but he’s very eager to learn and just works very hard on his technique. He’s come a long way since he got here in the spring.”
Playing with a broken hand can be difficult, especially for a cornerback who has to use them on every play. They are constantly trying to jam the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, or use their hands to battle with the receivers down the field. Cornerbacks also have to use their hands to deflect passes intended for the receiver they are covering, which Roberson did during the Cincinnati game.
But Roberson said it wasn’t a big deal. He broke his thumb, on the same hand, during his senior year of college, so he knew that it was probably broken, but the adrenaline he had going from playing in his first NFL game made it so he could hardly feel it.
“I knew from past experience that it was hurt pretty bad, but it didn’t hurt because the adrenaline was still going,” he explained. “I wanted to keep on playing. It was my first NFL game, so I wanted to get that experience and just be tough and try to make plays for the team.”
Roberson met with the team’s trainers after the game and let them know he hurt his hand, and that’s when he found out how bad it really was. He was forced to miss the following week of practice and the Vikings’ second preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. That was something that really bummed him out because one of his best friends, defensive end David Perkins, plays for the Seahawks, so he was looking forward to seeing him again.
“It was very hard. I have one of my best friends, he plays for Seattle, he was my roommate, so it was hard sitting out and hard watching the team go out there and play,” Roberson said. “But it’s just best to sit and let some things heal.”
The rookie’s hand is still in the process of healing, but he is back out on the practice field, continuing to try and get better. He has his right hand wrapped up for every practice, but it does still hurt from time to time. Especially when he is trying to jam the receivers at the line, but he said it’s “not that bad.”
Roberson is not yet sure if the coaches are planning to play him in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers or not, but said he’ll be ready if they give him the green light.